The Port of Houston is quickly becoming a major container import location. but some congestion is occurring and the dwell time of containers is increasing to close to 6 days, causing slowdowns in the yards. The port has adopted a plan to apply a dwell time fee for containers left beyond 6 days. It has not been actually enabled yet.
The port has also extended gate hours to allow drivers to access the yard over a longer period. We will see how many want to use the extended hours. At Los Angeles, the extended gate hours were not so successful, even with reduced charges for the extra time periods.
I received a nice writeup from Kyle Krug, representing Legacy Supply Chain Systems, listing six important challenges shippers face today. Legacy is a 3PL helping customers with their logistics for nearly 40 years. They have been trying to help their customer firms deal with these challenges.
Driving Limitations: Hours of Service (HOS) restrictions and Electronic Logging (ELD) have reduced trucking capacity. Even when the hours of service rules have been waived for essential transport, electronic logging means simply that a driver can’t lie about the time spent behind the wheel. That means they have to stop on time. While it’s true that some drivers may object to the intrusion of ELD, it’s probably better not to have those drivers doing the job anymore. ELD data could be immensely valuable to a dispatcher to determine bottlenecks preventing on-time deliveries, and should allow a 3PL or a shipper to optimize use of the available driving time. And while drivers and shippers may wish for more hours of service, it’s certainly safer to reduce them, and the effect could be moderated by using team driving for long hauls. Actually, drivers may be more inconvenienced by delays at warehouses that are not able to provide a load or unload in timely fashion. The shortage of parking places for heavy-duty trucks also plays a role; planning your HOS stop is much harder than it should be. A carrier software system should certainly be able to allow dispatch to take advantage of what it knows of history and the needs of the shipment to make choices better than manual dispatching, for both the shipper and the driver. That’s something software could take advantage of, for the benefit of both shippers and drivers. A 3PL should choose carriers that offer these options and take advantage of them.
Transportation Capacity: Recently there has been a shortage of truck drivers. Experts differ on the reasons. One theory says it’s because shippers and haulage firms have been taking advantage of drivers, making them want to quit. Others point to the aging of the truck driver force; younger people might not see driving as a career option. A third rationale is that especially during Covid, driving schools could not stay open, and the supply of newly trained drivers dried up. Another thought is simply the pay and benefits. Recent use of hiring and staying bonuses and increased pay have helped. And efforts to stop mistreatment of drivers through delays and altered contracts that cause unanticipated delays have helped. I’m not so sure this is as big a problem right now as it was during the height of the Covid pause. How can a 3PL help? By insuring that the carriers it uses have a reliable, fairly compensated workforce and that they don’t specify routes with unconscionable delays built in.
Lack of Flexible Solutions: Shippers have unique needs, and a 3PL needs to be sensitive to them. Excellent management software which supports many and well-qualified options can be a great benefit to shippers when the need varies. Sensitivity to shippers’ requirements for this order is important, and that benefit should be provided by helpful and understanding agents.
Inflation: We hear a lot about inflation right now, though it only seems to be rampant for a few items. However, inflation in fuel, repairs, and labor costs affects the price of transport, and through that prism the cost of everything, since it all needs to be transported. Shippers have limited ability to negotiate shipping costs. They could make a contract with a carrier, but in times of inflation, long-term contracts could be high. A 3PL should be able to help with decision-making on spot versus longer-term contracting, taking advantage of ‘arbitrage’ between the spot market for a route and the contract rate. That’s not the kind of activity a smaller shipper would usually want to get involved with. The 3PL should be able to flex between different options. A good software decision system should be helpful to an agent.
Pandemic Fallout: The pandemic was a new type of challenge. It created outages for suppliers and created congestion in supply chains. These were unforeseen; Covid was a new phenomenon. It taught us that our logistics systems need to be prepared for this type of disruption. A 3PL should be planning for disruptions of this kind, and have plans in place to handle the sorts of issues we saw with Covid. They should be able to share their plans with prospective customers, so shippers would understand how the 3PL will try to deal with the problems that might show up.
Increased Fuel Costs: Fuel surcharges are customary in goods transport. When fuel prices rise, carriers can charge additional sums to cover the excess fuel charges. Insurance, wages, and repairs have also risen. Shippers are only concerned about the total cost of transport. A 3PL can offer deals that insure the shipper is informed about that total cost before they commit to a shipment plan. Full disclosure is best.
I like these six issues. They affect trucking especially, though the same issues also plague other modes. They capture some of the major disruptions we’re seeing. A 3PL can be helpful in dealing with these. In fact, it’s disqualifying if the 3PL can’t or won’t offer solutions for these.
Some parts of the offer are enabled by the software and intelligent data they employ. Some parts can only be enabled by customer agents with the right cooperative attitude and determination to do the best for shippers. Selecting a 3PL means taking both into account, and then monitoring how the 3PL is actually doing.
A New Transportation Model: A 3PL should be able to offer flexibility and clear information to prospective shippers. Good software that can plan effectively, capture and present all the relevant information, measure the results, and make sure the customer is informed, is essential. A 3PL needs the commitment to make sure they can provide the software, and to have agents that work cooperatively with shippers and carriers to achieve their goals.
Logistics is about customer service. We are constantly reminded. Read the article below for more about Legacy 3PL and its notions.
The labor strike at the port of Felixstowe in the UK is growing more acrimonious. German ports of Hamburg and Bremerhaven are also seeing industrial actions. The current negotiations on the US West coast are also not seeing results yet. And there are impending strikes at Liverpool and the East Coast US looming.
I think there are going to be more of these strikes and actions for more pay and better benefits for port workers.
From the union perspective, when is a better time to strike? When congestion is a problem, when everyone is complaining about missed or late delivery, that is clearly the time to get management to cough up more wages and benefits. And the ocean carriers and port terminal operators are clearly making big money from the high freight rates for containers. some ocean lines have made over 100% profit this past year.
And it’s also true that the recent spate of inflation is making even substantial proposed raises seem paltry. Inflation at 10% makes a single-digit percent raise going backward for workers.